What is a sickness absence policy and why is it important?

Sick lady

A sickness absence policy sets out how you, as a company, will deal with sickness absence. It’s important for managing absences and making sure everyone is treated fairly. In your policy, triggers can be set for a review of a person’s absence.

Your absence management policy should be in writing and should be given to staff members – or you should at least make sure they have access to it.


When do you need a sickness absence policy?

All businesses can benefit from a sickness absence policy. It’s useful to have one in place so everyone in your business understands what’s considered to be an acceptable level of absence.

A sickness absence policy will clearly set out the processes that your people must follow if they can’t work on that day. It may also be a good idea to set out the procedure that you’ll follow should absence become a cause for concern, so employees are clear.


What are some suitable sickness absence reasons that employees can give?

If someone is absent from work, it should be for a genuine reason. Just having a ‘duvet day’ on a whim isn’t usually the best for business.

COVID-19 and the winter months have, as expected, caused sickness rates to skyrocket – and this is likely to be something we see happen repeatedly for the foreseeable future.

So, that makes it more important than ever that records are kept of the reasons for absence. Having reasons for absences recorded will make it that much easier to ensure that anyone returning to the workplace is fully recovered from COVID-19 and able to work.

However, businesses must make sure that they comply with data protection rules – a person’s private health information and their COVID-19 status would be classed as special category data.


What to include in a sickness absence policy

A clause should be included in a contract of employment setting out what sick pay will be paid if a person is on sickness absence. More detail about sick pay and sickness absence would generally be included in the company handbook, which could be contractual or non-contractual.

A sickness absence policy can be quite wide-ranging, but will generally include:

  • details of what payment will be made when someone is on sickness absence
  • the procedure for absence reporting and what evidence would be required
  • what would happen to any holidays booked during a period of sick leave
  • the return-to-work interviews and how these will be carried out
  • how attendance will be managed
  • how everything from persistent intermittent short-term absence to long-term sickness or absence will be handled

It would also be good idea to include reference to the reasonable adjustments that will be made for disabled employees in your policy.


Short-term vs. long-term sickness absence policies

There are no specific definitions as to what qualifies as short-term or long-term sickness absence, but it can be a good idea to manage these types of absence in different ways.

Depending on the situation, you may need to have a separate short-term sickness absence policy and long-term absence sickness policy within your business. These should outline how short-term and long-term sickness should be handled by the business.


How to enforce an absence management policy

Sickness absence policy and procedure should always be consistent. So, if there’s a need to take action due to an employee taking lots of short-term absences, for example, then it’s clear to both employer and employee what’s expected and the process that will be followed.

The policy should set out the steps that you’ll take if needed when there is short-term or long-term sickness absence, and the possible consequences of this.


How to manage sickness absence

  • Reporting sickness absences – Make sure you have a process in place for reporting sickness absence and outline it clearly in your sickness absence policy!
  • Monitoring and reviewing sickness absences – Monitoring and reviewing absences over time is a key part of the sickness absence management process and could help you meet your legal responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010.
  • Return-to-work meetings – These have been proven to be a really effective management tool, as they’ll help to identify any patterns of absence and can even as a deterrent!

Managing short-term sickness absence

Our experts have summarised how you can best manage short-term sickness absence in your business.

Download the guide

How Citation can help

When it comes to effective sickness absence management, we’re the perfect team to have on your side.

We can advise how to manage sickness absence in both the short and long term, as well as advising on and supporting with any necessary disciplinary sanctions – all the way up to dismissal.

Our team can also help you create compliant sickness absence policies for your business, so you have the right building blocks in place to effectively manage sickness absence.

Call 0345 844 1111 to find out more, or alternatively you can email us at hello@citation.co.uk.


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